Christian group settles suit over conflict at Arab fest

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Christian evangelists who were kicked out of an Arab-American street festival in 2012 after carrying a pig’s head and telling Dearborn Muslims they would “burn in hell” have agreed to settle their lawsuit against Wayne County and members of its police force.

Bible Believers and officials for Wayne County announced a settlement in the case on June 24 after undergoing mediation with Fred M. Mester, a court ombudsman for the U.S. District Court in Detroit and a former Oakland County judge.

Information on the settlement was not immediately available.

The group members sued Wayne County, saying their First Amendment rights were violated after two members of the Sheriff’s Department threatened them with arrest and forced them to leave the festival.

On Oct. 28, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said Bible Believers should have been protected even though its speech was loathsome and intolerant. The Appeals Court ruled in the group’s favor and ordered damages be awarded.

In 2012, Bible Believers members were pelted with rocks during the Arab International Festival, and Wayne County authorities threatened to ticket the evangelists, citing safety concerns.

During the event, Bible Believers members engaged in street preaching, carrying signs and wearing shirts with messages that included: “Turn or Burn” and “Jesus Is the Way, the Truth and the Life. All Others Are Thieves and Robbers.”

People in the crowd reacted by throwing bottles and other items at the group.

On Jan. 6, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen J. Murphy III said the Appeals Court ruling “contains a clear factual error,” specifically the finding that law enforcement spoke with the county’s legal department immediately before escorting the Bible Believers out of the festival.

Nabih H. Ayad, who represents the county, has said Wayne County’s corporation counsel did not give the police direction or permission to kick out the group, making the county not liable for damages. Ayad was not immediately available for comment Thursday.

Robert J. Muise, with the American Freedom Law Center in Ann Arbor, which is representing Bible Believers, said the agreement still needs approval from the Wayne County Commission, which next meets July 7.

Muise said he could not comment further on the case.